UK & World News

  • 20 January 2014, 6:57

Syria Peace Talks: Storm Over Iran Invite

Syria's opposition has said it will not attend this week's peace talks in Switzerland unless the United Nations withdraws an invitation for Iran - a key backer of President Bashar al Assad - to attend.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Iran had pledged in talks to play a "positive and constructive role" in efforts to end Syria's civil war, which broke out in March 2011.

But the Syrian National Coalition threatened on Twitter to withdraw from the negotiations, which are due to start on Wednesday in Montreux, unless the invitation is retracted.

The warning came just hours after international leaders had hailed the coalition's decision to take part in negotiations.

The United States also said Mr Ban should withdraw the invitation unless Iran gives "explicit" support to the conference's aim of setting up a transitional government in Syria.

Mr Ban told a news conference on Sunday he had extended a late invitation after intense talks over two days with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers," Mr Ban said.

"He assured me again and again that Iran, if they are invited, then they will play a very positive and constructive role."

If Iran does go, there will be 40 countries and a group of regional bodies at the opening meeting, which will be the most intensive diplomatic effort yet to end a war that the UN says has left well over 100,000 dead.

Mr Ban said that, as host of the peace conference, he also extended last-minute invitations to Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Vatican.

He said the additional countries would be "an important and useful show of solidarity in advance of the hard work that the Syrian government and opposition delegations will begin".

The US and Russia played key roles convincing the opposition and Mr Assad to send delegations to the conference, which has been pushed back several times.

They will attend alongside the other permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, Britain and France - and additional countries suffering fallout from the war, including Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

More than 2.3 million people have fled the country and some 6.5 million are displaced inside Syria.

At least 30 people died in violence in Syria on Sunday, including 15 killed when government planes dropped bombs on rebel zones in the northern province of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

:: Watch the latest updates live on Sky News on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.